RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica (1978): “Fire in Space” (Story 9)

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Man, and I thought Quark was bad with the ripoffs! Sorry, “Hommages.” Galactica is pretty much nothing but! Ok, so the first and second stories were basically original, the third one was “Shane,” the fourth one was original, the fifth one was “The Guns of Navarone,” the sixth one was “The Magnificent Seven,” the seventh one was basically original (That creepy one with the kids), the eighth one was “Patton,” and now, now, now, we’re ripping off “The Towering Inferno.”

Geez! If it weren’t for the fact that they’re obviously trying so hard, I’d accuse them of not trying at all. It’s obvious that they’re under the gun, over budget, and behind schedule, and the show is well cast, well acted, and opulent, but geez, guys! Put the money in the writers, *always* put the money in the writers!

That said, it’s very refreshing aspect to this one that jumped out at me: The bulk of this episode is carried on the backs of two black actors: Terry Carter (Tigh) and Herbert Jefferson, Jr (Boomer). Everyone else is on hand, but it’s really their show. There was an effort in the seventies to integrate black people into TV, and this unfortunately smacked all-too-often of what we now call “Political Correctness,” but had a much more unpleasant name back in the day. Outside of sitcoms, if these characters were featured at all (Unlike Gordie the weatherman on the Mary Tyler Moore show, who was just kinda’ wandering around in the background), they tended to be either supermen, or the entirely-too-trendy exemplar of what white writers felt Black people should be like at the time (Think: Link from the Mod Squad). All too often it felt disingenuous, propagandistic, false, made worse because there is generally only one black person around (Kinch, Gordie, etc), which means that whatever great intentions the well-meaning people behind the show had in mind, the only part of it that appealed to the suits was “Quota.”

This is a horrible crying shame because the seventies were the time when black roles finally really opened up for actors, when the standards and practices of writing really loosened, when writing could be more free and natural, and yet so many really great actors got stuck in hackneyed or subservient roles. Think I’m wrong? Go watch Ivan Dixon in “I am the Night, Color me Black,” and then realize that this guy wasted his best years playing straight man to Larry Hovis.

All of which is my longwinded way of praising the original Galactica for seeing beyond the mere ‘quota,’ and having black characters who were actual characters with personalities - divergent personalities - and not a monolithic portrayal as was trendy at the time. This is never more obvious than in this episode, in which two black characters are front-and-center the whole time, and the writers - and the actors - are comfortable enough with what they’re doing that they allow each of them to make very different impressions. Tigh makes a pretty poor showing for himself, but Boomer makes a very, very good one. Why? Because they’re written as people, and their color is completely irrelevant.

I think it’s important to remember that this goofy little show was taking a big chance on that back in the day, and God bless ‘em for it.

PLAY BY PLAY

The Cylons launch a Kamikaze attack on the galactica. The fighters don’t even stop to engage, they just fly through the vipers and start ramming the battlestar. We get all manner of scenes of higgledy piggaldy inside, including some really really cool scenes of carnage in the bridge set. The Galactica is badly damaged: one hangar bay is completely out of commission, with fires raging inside, the fires are spreading out of control through the main body of the ship, Adama is incapacitated by injuries, power is failing, they’re effectively flying blind, and in danger of exploding once the fires hit the fuel storage tanks. Added to this, Boxey, Athena, and Boomer were down in the rec room when the attack came, and they got sealed in. They can’t get out, can’t call for help, and the fires are quickly going to consume their little semi-safe area.

Ultimately, they decide on a risky plan to blow holes in the hull to suck all the oxygen from the flames, and Apollo is briefly left drifting away from the ship in only a space suit, but, you know, it’s the seventies, and there’s no major guest stars in this one, so it all works out well in the end.

OBSERVATIONS

We never see a base ship in this episode, however there are clearly two on the scanner. Sheba says there are “At least a hundred” Raiders coming at them, which is a lot, but nowhere near the full compliment of a Base Ship. Is this because the writers hadn’t decided how many fighters they carry, or were they keeping a reserve? Either way, this attack would seem to indicate some genuine desperation on the part of the Cylons. I’d long assumed it was a case of the Galactica moving beyond the Cylon sphere of influence, but most of the dialog from the previous episode indicated that “Gamoray” was pretty much the St. Louis of the Cylon Empire: the hot burning center of everything. The idea that they’re past it and suddenly in trackless space makes little sense. In this instance, I like my (wrong) supposition more than the reality, so we’ll go with that.

This doesn’t strike me as one of Baltar’s plans, and he doesn’t appear in the episode. After “The Living Legend,” There was some debate among my little friends in sixth grade as to whether he’d survived or not.

How long has it been since the Battle of Gamoray? Dunno. At least two weeks, since Tigh mentions they evaded a Base Ship ten days back. If that’s a reference to Baltar’s ship, it’s one heck of an understatement. Furthermore, Sheba seems pretty integrated into the ‘family’ and seems genuinely upset when it looks like Apollo and Starbuck are dead, so I’m thinking it’s been a month or so.

Colonialisms:

“Frulon” = Furlough
“Centar” = definitely, unquestionably means an hour.
“Centon” = definitely, definitely means a minute
“Micron” = definitely means a second. They’ve finally started using these terms consistently.
“Compartment Billiards” is a kind of pool/table bowling sorta’ game.
“Wavelon” = Wavelength
“Mushies” = some kind of food last mentioned in “The Long Patrol,” there said to be a delicacy, but it looks like a twinkie, and everyone regards it about as excitedly as they would a twinkie, not, say, caviar.
“Telecom” = internal ship communications system
“Life Masks” = emergency breathing gear
“Fumarillo” = Cigar (And not a brand of cigar, as I’d thought previously)
“Boraton” = a fire-retardant
“Life Pods” = the medical beds that can be sealed up to function as life support in extreme situations
“Finite Microlizer” = surgical tool (I like that one. I’m stealing it.)
“Hotlinking” = hotwiring
“Hovermobile” = cars, obviously.
“Rejuvenation Center” = rec room. (And a really tacky one. It’s like a ‘70s pinball shack in there. In fact, there‘s a significant difference in quality between the original sets and the new ones we see this time out.)

This is, I think, the last time Athena will play a prominent role in an episode. It’s not the last time we see her (Though it might be the penultimate one). Sadly, she doesn’t make a particularly strong showing. Oh, she handles her lines fine, and she looks yummy with her tight uniform, long legs, disheveled hair, and her occasional gasping-for-air expression, but it’s a very generic part that could just as easily have been given to Jolly or Greenbean or any of the other also-rans. For the record: Jolly would not have looked yummy in a tight uniform with his hair all disheveled.

Speaking of also-rans, Corporal Komma makes a completely unexpected second appearance here! He’s the computer technician from “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero,” played by Jeff McKay. He was all burned up and injured, having been fighting the fires somewhere on the ship.
Dr. Salik figures prominently, the first time we’ve seen him since “Lost Planet of the Gods,” the second story. Doctor Wilker gets a name check as well.

There’s a hangar bay scene showing three cockpits in a row, with pilots in each of ‘em. We can clearly see the two full-scale vipers, but it looks like they rolled in the cockpit prop to stand in for a third. Clever, and a neat visual as well.

As of this episode, the Galactica officially has four squadrons: Blue, Red, Silver Spar and a fourth one who’s never mentioned by name. Given that the Galactica was up to full fighting strength by the end of the last episode, that means about 37 or 38 fighters to a squadron. They don’t lose any in this episode.

Sheba is now a member of blue squadron. Why? She was the CO of Silver Spar on the Pegasus. Granted, it seemed odd to have a lowly Lieutenant running an entire squadron, but sure, whatever. Brevets n’stuff, but why is she reduced to holding Apollo’s coat? In the first battle, in one scene she’s wearing her Pegasus horsey helmet, in the next she’s wearing a normal Galactica one. It changes from one scene to the next. Also: Her helmet fits, but she’s got such a tiny head that it looks huge.

There’s a great scene where Athena and Boxey are playing “Compartment Billiards,” and she says “You beat me again, Boxey.” Boomer comes in, and Boxey challenges him, saying “I’m pretty good!” Boomer looks surreptitiously at Athena, and she shakes here head saying “Noooooo!”

Why did the Cylons not launch a follow-up attack? What was the fleet doing during all this?

There are several neat new special effects this time out, all of them revolving around the fires in the bay.

Not only is this episode a rip off of Irwin Allen’s “Towering Inferno,” but it actually uses stock footage from it! All those shots of things exploding below decks? They’re from the movie.

Boomer carries a pocketknife. A big one. Also, he was a juvenile delinquent, but he’s done a good job covering it up.

The main cast are all in this episode, but most of them are offstage for most of it: Starbuck gets a few way-too-pointed lines, Adama’s in sickbay at death’s door, and while Apollo has a well-acted scene where he nervously and contritely apologizes to his dying dad about letting one of the Raiders get through, he’s not in much of it either. In his few scenes, he deliberately plays it as if his focus is off. This is a nice choice on the actor’s part, since he’s on the verge of losing his *entire* family.

I like Cassie. I’m liking her more as the show progresses. I’m not particularly attracted to her (Too blonde, not enough curves, unflattering nurse uniform), I like how she’s sort of quietly strength to her not generally associated with ex-sex workers. She’s not taking any of Starbuck’s crap, she’s not willing to just jump back into the sack with Cain, she’s been seen taking care of Boxey and/or Adama frequently, and I really like the deft way she insinuates herself into the conversation to protect Apollo and get him away from Adama when the guy is clearly just too messed up to really be talking to his dad. It’s unsung, but pretty much since episode two, she’s been very close to the Commander’s family.

Immediately after the initial Cylon Attack, on the shattered bridge (Which really does look pretty cool) Tigh is staggering up the stairs with a clearly broken wrist. He’s going out of his way to hold it immobile with his other hand, and wincing in pain. Nicely done, however in all the subsequent episodes he’s fine. We *have* seen that they can quickly fix broken arms, but did they do that here, or did they just forget?

Curiously, the whole time Tigh is in charge, he never ventures anywhere near Adama’s command pedestal, and spends much of the episode in the ‘trench.’ Interesting directorial choice because it emphasizes Tigh’s second-banana nature without drawing too much attention to it. I should mention that when I say Tigh makes a bad showing for himself, I don’t mean he blew it anywhere, or made any bad decisions, it’s just that he’s not a commander. He administers the situation as best he can, but he lacks the inspiration that Adama and Boomer have this time out. He’s not a dope or an incompetent, he’s just reacting rather than controlling the situation. Conversely, even in the medical center with people deliberately not telling him how dire the situation is, Adama is still fully aware of what’s going on, and figuring out plans to save the ship.

Why do they use such a small team to put the charges on the hull? Why just two guys if time is that much of an issue? Why not three? Or six? And why bother to try to get back in before the blast? Why not just use an MMU to get away or have a shuttle standing by or something? By the way: apart from the horrible ones they wore on the original Star Trek, these are the worst space suits ever! In one scene, Starbuck waves and you can see his whole wrist - the gloves aren’t even attached to anything

I’m confused about one of the sets: You know that poorly-lit corridor that we see the pilot trams zipping down now and again? I’m pretty sure that’s the Draconia hallway from Buck Rogers. Definitely in “Living Legend,” it was. In these scenes - stock footage all - they’re not as detailed. SO was the Draconia thing a redress of a minor Galactica set, or something they decided to throw in during preproduction on another project, or what? If anyone knows, let me know, and then we’ll both know, and by knowing I’ll…uhm…know. Yeah.

Adama appears to be wearing bubble wrap under his robe after the surgery. This puts me in mind of Ophelie Winter when she wore that bubble wrap number in “2001: A Space Travesty.” She pulled it off well. Then I realize I’m associating her with Lorne Greene, and I feel all icky…

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Sure, why not?

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